Were You Scared?

“Were you ever scared?” “Did you ever feel as if you weren’t safe?” Dixie and I get asked these two questions a lot since returning from our cross-country van trip. Mostly by women. It really sucks that women have to ask. But I get it. I do. If I weren’t traveling with Dixie, if I were all by myself, I can pretty much assure you I would have felt scared the whole time. Or, if not the whole time, a lot of the time. But traveling with Dixie, well, good luck to anyone who tries to mess with us. Kind as she is, loving as she is, she is badass to the core. And capable. Still, we carried pepper spray, which, when crossing the border, we found out is illegal in Canada. Who knew?

But our friends’ questions have me thinking about safety. More specifically, what it means to be a couple of women traveling this country together. Middle-aged women. Alone. In a van. Out in nature. Without much of a plan. I wonder if we’d just returned from a well-thought-out European tour, if we’d hopped from Airbnb to Airbnb, itinerary in hand; or gone to, say, a resort in Bali or Costa Rica, whether our friends would have been as concerned for us. Because for me, traveling in countries where I don’t speak the language, don’t understand the customs, seems much scarier than traveling this country where English is more or less spoken and customs are more or less shared. Though camping by Lake George in Upper State New York, we were in a site next to a full-on multi-generational, multi-family Bollywoodish party that displayed very different camping customs to ours. To hell with embracing the silence! They strung  lights, set up multiple tents, and danced and laughed and ate and danced some more until it got dark. It was a true delight to watch. (All this for just a one night stay.) And in Niagara Falls, well, all I can say is, we must of visited on Amish Day. They were everywhere, the men in their stiff hats, beards and suspenders; the women bonneted and following behind in their long dresses. Not going to see me observing those customs and time soon. And for sure not Dixie!

Dixie, in all her bad-assed-ness, Lewis & Clark recreation area, Yankton South Dakota.

For the record, it wasn’t just women who asked if we were scared. Before leaving, my brother asked if we were going to the Deep South. “Aren’t you scared? Just a little?” he asked. Which says a lot about how polarized we’ve become as a country. Where us Blue Staters are viewing all Red Staters as gay-hating, gun-toting, bigoted, religious zealots; and where they view us as rich liberal zealots, clueless to the needs of the “working man”, who want to take away their guns, and whose permissiveness and socialist leanings are sending us straight to the fiery pit of you know where. But what I experienced, both in Blue States and Red, was people being kind and helpful. Then again, I’m white. And we didn’t go around broadcasting our sexuality. We didn’t hide it either. Or maybe we did. We never kissed in front of strangers. Were less affectionate in public than we would be here in the safety of liberal Santa Cruz, our home.

There was the car mechanic experience.  In South Dakota. Maude, our ’91 conversion van, started making a troublesome noise, and the closest mechanic—the only mechanic that could see us that day—was called Triple K Tire and Repair. They were nice as could be and replaced our two U-joints “in the nick of time” as one of them said. But again, we’re white. We may be lesbians, but we’re white lesbians. We’re also old enough that the young car mechanics probably didn’t give a second thought to our sexuality. People have sex when they’re that old? And I know, Triple K could also have been referring to breast size. (I’m serious. Google it.) Or it could have stood for Keith, Kyle, and Kenny. I didn’t ask. I didn’t want them sabotaging our van. But I’ll tell you this, the whole situation made me feel damn squeamish, like I was taking advantage of white privilege, which I was (and likely do all the time unknowingly), and giving business to people whose beliefs I strongly disagree with; and, more importantly, cause harm to people I care about. Still, I was thankful. They boys did a great job. And they were being transparent about their beliefs, something I appreciate. I like to know where I stand, which is hard with the huge corporations that I regularly patronize, whose politics I know little about, but I’m sure some of which are just as nasty. Still.

Getting U-joints replaced

But race aside—And that’s a BIG thing to put aside. I just don’t feel like I can talk about what it would be like not to be white and traveling this country in a van—I want to talk about what it feels like to be a couple of middle-aged women traveling this country in a van.

To be clear, we camped mostly at recognized campgrounds: national parks, state parks, army corps of engineer parks, private parks, BLM land (bureau of land management), and National Forest, and I’ve got to say, in all of them, I felt totally safe. We were also in a van at night. That offered a degree of security. But really, I never felt even remotely threatened.

So what was it that made people feel we should be afraid? (And, believe me, I get it. I was nervous at the front of the trip.) Was it that we’re no longer spring chicks? (Well, yeah.) That we didn’t have much of a plan, were plunging headfirst into the unknown? (And there’s that…) That we were going to be (add scary soundtrack here) oooout in the miiiiddle of nooooowhere? Or was it that we’re women, and as women we’re just used to feeling like, and being perceived of as, prey?

I suspect this last one plays the biggest role in keeping us alarmed. That said—and I think this is so cool—we came across many middle-aged women out there camping the country by themselves!

There was the Grandma on the Turquoise Trail, located at the foot of Manzano Mountain range in New Mexico. Her rig was a ’93 Nissan and a tent. She wore a battered felt hat and used the vanity in the bathroom (where it was warmer and the WiFi was stronger) to keep in touch with her children who kept telling her, “Mom! You’re too old to keep camping like this!” She was undaunted. She loved the light dusting of snow on the junipers and piñon trees, would walk the paths on the land, her face a mask of delight, looking for signs of spring. She’d been camping there for years.

There was the birder we met in Big Bend National Park in Texas, who’d leave her husband for weeks at a time because he didn’t like to camp. Her rig was a pickup with a camper top. Like us, she had no exact plan when she’d return to her home (a farm in Idaho), or by what route. She told us that once she got home she always had to spend a few nights in her truck to acclimate.

There was the kayaker in Oregon who asked to see inside our van. She was ready to downsize from her RV since her husband wouldn’t travel with her anymore. Said that when you have an RV you spend too much time inside. That she liked living outside, as we were.

Devils Tower, Wyoming

I give you these women (and there were more) as an antidote to every TV show you’ve ever seen, or book you’ve ever read, where a woman is hacked to bits and scattered out in the desert. An antidote to every advertisement you’ve seen that depicts a woman in a victim-like pose. An antidote to all the “You-can’t!” “Shouldn’t” “You’d-be-asking-for-it” advice you’ve been given. An antidote to any past experience that makes you feel afraid.

Years ago, I was talking to a friend in Texas who complained that the local government wouldn’t give a permit for an evening Take Back the Night March “because it was too dangerous for women to be out at night.” Told them they were going to have to hold their march in the afternoon.

I say, forget the afternoon! Take back the morning, the afternoon, the dead of night. All of it. Take back the woods, the rivers, the cities. Take back the sky, the caves, the canyons and mountains. Take back the world, our beautiful, wonderful, glorious world. We are, after all, over half the population.

So that’s it for today. Over and out. And remember, live the love; it’s all we’ve got.

And if you haven’t checked out my newest novel, you can! It’s available at Bold Strokes Books.

Available from Bold Strokes Books



  1. Thanks for sharing your trip with us! And thanks for being aware of the ways in which privilege made your travels less anxiety producing than this trip would have been for me. I would have been SERIOUSLY ON EDGE talking with the mechanics at the Triple K shop. KKK? No way. Just kidding….sort of.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Renee! Thanks for checking in. I totally get the SERIOUSLY ON EDGE. Why wouldn’t you be? I was, and I’m white. The odd thing was, the boys were so sweet, and I couldn’t reckon that with the whole Triple K thing. Maybe they weren’t the owners? (I didn’t ask. I just wanted them to fix the van so I could get out of there!) But, if they were the owners… what makes someone act from that place of, what seems to me, fear and meanness and cruelty and, honestly, short-sightedness. (Can you see how hard I’m trying to avoid words that are starting to sound like cliches? Bigot, racist.) Somehow, we’ve got to figure out what’s fueling people’s fear of others. Then, maybe as a country, we can start to heal. I dunno. That’s all I can come up with. And I sure don’t think hating them back is the answer.


  2. I have been thinking and writing about racism for a while. I have 1.5 blogs so far. And the idea of white privilege as well. The going off alone didn’t bother me when I was younger but even now it’s not a big issue. Might be the fact I’m an only child. I have been thinking about getting a camper in a few years to travel around…. your saga here gives me hope. Thanks for reminding me about the wide world out there. (and I’m off to get the latest book as well!)


    • Congrats on 1.5! Yeah. White privilege. I don’t think we can overstate the role in plays in interactions we have with others. Just read an article that says, Let’s quit calling it white. (Let’s call ourselves European-American, which I think is great.) I think if we stay in the love, stay kind, and notice when we’re acting from fear, that’s a big step. Thanks for checking in! And thanks for getting Perfect Little Worlds. I hope you like it.


  3. “Or was it that we’re women, and as women we’re just used to feeling like, and being perceived of as, prey?”

    THIS! Thanks for the uplifting post, Clifford. But I’m still skeeeeered. My wife wants us to get a van–she’s at the “I’m sick of looking at Pinterest and am heading into the Van Classifieds” stage. It could happen at any moment! (cue Suspense track). And yep, we’ve got the White, privileged thing all out in front and in historical retrospect of our experience. And I’m still nervous. I’ve lived in NYC, twice, in San Francisco, Seattle and the last 30 years in Los Angeles, and nothing scares me more that the wide open unknown because…because I grew up in the Midwest, with family from the south, and I know how “they” think. I know, I know, crazy, but there you have it. So, I’m gonna have to get over it, though, because the thought of that wide, wide world is exciting, I like the way you suggest take back the night, etc etc and…and someone left the classifieds open on my desk. A van with bathroom and the works, pre-loved and in great condition. She thinks the bathroom part will win me over. And it might! Great blog—love the “people have sex when they’re THAT old” bit! LOL…of course they do!


    • Go for it, TT! My prediction is that the trip will empower you, like it did me. And, truthfully, so many of the people you meet when traveling are other travelers. And they’re from all over. So good luck. In doing this for you wife, you’re going to reap so big rewards yourself. Have fun!!!!


  4. Hi Clifford!
    I’ve really been enjoying your adventures!! Just a few thoughts on this one though: while I believe some of the concern people expressed was mostly because “women folk don’t do things like that” it is my opinion that maybe they were expressing the concerns and fears preventing them from embarking on similar adventures themselves. I remember when I decided that I would immigrate to England and all the backlash I got. It ranged from “what if you don’t fit in?” to aren’t you scared being out there with no family?” and my favorite “aren’t you too old to be doing things like that?” It almost stopped me until my son said to me: “ mom everyone has a chance to start over; you just have the ba*** to take it”. That’s when I realized they were asking me questions I had already asked myself many times over. So much so that by the time they asked, I could already pro and con it in ten seconds flat. Fear and comfort zones are very powerful. You overcame and stepped outside of yours. Not many people can say the say that. But it’s like I told everyone who asked: I rather fail trying then spend the rest of my life wondering what-if? Just a thought….


    • A good thought, I’d say. And yeah, I think you’re right. We all have all kinds of fears, and if we don’t pay close attention, they can take hold of the steering wheel and run our lives. Way to go for facing yours!!!! xoxox


  5. Wow! I love reading your blogs! I especially loved this one about single women.
    As a single woman I have traveled alone often. I have felt the fear and loneliness and did it anyway!
    But, I have not camped alone..
    Of course you and Dixie inspire me!
    I feel somehow comforted when I tea see your blogs…think that it is because I love you two and glad that I know you. And live the idea of road tripping through your writings.
    One of these days I will do some version of road tripping.
    When o go back to N.Y. in Fall I was thinking of some kind of trip..
    We will see if I can still feel the fear and do it anyway!


  6. Thanks for all the wonderful blogs from you and Dixie. Sounds like it was all beautiful & fun. Glad we had time for a short visit & that good ole’ Maude didn’t let you two down for long. You two are inspirations to so many.


  7. I have been scared camping once: in a place called Beaver Lake Campground in Dexter, IA. With my 6’4” husband, our 4 year-old and our 6 week old. We laugh about it now- but we got such a case of the willies from the whole set-up there that in the middle of setting up the tent we rolled it back up, tossed it in the trunk, and spent precious dollars on a Motel 6. There wasn’t anything specific, just a few random things that made us wary (car driving by slowly a couple of times, too much attention from the campground supervisors who asked weird questions, no other tents but a couple of RVs, no lake that we could see). My daughter (born after the above events) is a wilderness person. She’s had a few interesting interactions while camping but overall feels safer in the wilderness than anywhere else. I hope that never changes for her.


    • No question, you have to pay attention to intuition, and it sounds like you did. Phew! (Oddly, the one night I didn’t feel too safe was the night we stayed at a Motel 6 in Rochester NY. It was pouring rain and we were tired. But it was skanky! Should have looked at reviews. Others said the same thing. Ah well. Nothing happened. Besides me thinking I might get bedbugs. Which I didn’t. And which is not to dis on Motel 6. I’ve been at some really nice ones. But don’t go to the one in Rochester!) And I’m with your daughter. I feel safer in wilderness. Thanks for checking in!


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